The Problem with Patreon
Date Published: March 25, 2017
If you’re an aspiring artist, up-and-coming designer, or any kind of content creator that needs a little financial push to get started, Patreon is an excellent tool that connects ambitious people who have an idea for something with people who are willing to donate in order to see that idea come to fruition, and reach its fullest potential.
The simplest way to describe Pateron is that its people investing in people, kind-hearted patrons give money to artists they want to see succeed in whatever goal they are working towards. On the surface, it’s quite an innocent concept, however where the lines get blurred is when the argument of genuine need for support vs monetary greed comes into question.
No matter how you look at it, most if not all of Patreon’s beneficiaries are essentially asking for funds in order to create something that would otherwise be harder to accomplish without financial support. The contributions made by patrons that take the weight off promising creators in regards to everyday bills or cost of necessary equipment is a major aid in whether they can reach their project’s full potential.
Furthermore, not only do the contributions provide some peace of mind when it comes to rent, food, etc. but it lets the artist put forth full focus on their passion rather than juggle a full-time job while working on their project on the side. However, the authenticity of intent is a case by case basis when it comes to Patreon’s beneficiaries.
While there’s no absolute tell of whether some creators are using the service disingenuously, there is a certain pattern that raises suspicion. Factors such as the length of the Patreon campaign, overall development of the creator, and monetary success of the project are a few things to take note of when trying to identify if the patrons’ contributions are still necessary for the creator to keep afloat, or if the giving nature of patrons is perhaps being taken advantage of.
Putting together the factors mentioned, there are many Patreon campaigns that meet the criteria for perhaps not being completely genuine in their messaging with regards to the need of the funds, however in the gaming space, there are a few examples that made me question the creators’ integrity. The first is Kinda Funny— a website made up of former IGN employees, focusing on nerd culture and humor.
Kinda Funny launched in September of 2014 primarily with the support of its Patreon campaign, which turned out to be quite successful and has also shown to have long running legs as the current contribution amount as of March 2017, stands at $25,867 a month. Factoring in some math that would be the equivalent to $310,404 a year before Patreon’s cut and other fees applied, which in this case would be 92% of $310,404, granting a total of roughly $285,572 before taxes.
Considering how contributions to the campaign fluctuates month to month, and while specific numbers are available through Graphtreon, for the sake of the easy mathematical argument, lets round down Kinda Funny’s campaign to 92% of $20,000 a month for the last two and half years or 30 months, which grants the campaign a total $552,000 before taxes.
Starting up a company like Kinda Funny’s is never going to be easy, cost effective, or even profitable in the beginning, there are many expenses such as employee salaries, rent spaces, production costs, travel, etc. However, that statement is more so true when only depending on the monetary profit received from the content created, not with the factoring of regular substantial monthly donations.
Nevertheless, there is nothing fraudulent happening with Kinda Funny’s campaign, fans of the project donate because they want to, no one is forcing them to lash out money. However, there are two elements that raise the cause for questioning the moral integrity of the company, those being—an added campaign and pay walls.
Kinda Funny’s original drive isn’t the only Pateron campaign they use for funds, the website also launched a separate Patreon for Kinda Funny Games in January of 2015, an extension of Kinda Funny’s content which is solely focused on video games and gaming culture. Again, for the sake of easy math, we’ll round down the campaigns number to 92% of $20,000 a month for the last 2 years and 2 months or 26 months. That total comes up to roughly $478,000 before taxes.
Therefore, combined, the two Patreon campaign earnings for the company in the last 30 months is equal to about $1,030,400 before taxes. That number is staggering despite the considerate rounding down of the actual monthly sums in order to get to a mean number. Those earnings alone, even post tax should be enough to cover costs and still maintain a substantial profit, and that’s without adding into the equation the sponsorships, advertisement revenue, merchandise, and other means of income.
Even though I don’t necessarily believe a second Patreon campaign was needed for Kinda Funny in order to stay afloat, from a business sense I don’t see a problem with it. Where I personally have an issue with Kinda Funny’s Pateron is the locking out of content in a method equivalent to a pay wall. While the amounts range from as low as $1 up to $5,000, there is certain content that simply doesn’t warrant having to pay more for. Examples such as early access videos or on air thank you, just seem unethical from an artistic viewpoint.
There are many supporters who would donate more if they had the means to, to alienate these patrons by slapping a dollar amount on their worth, whether they get a short thank you in a video, or access to content already created for fans just seems disingenuous as content creators, it’s a clause in Kinda Funny’s Patreon that troubles me the most.
The other recently launched Patreon campaign I can’t seem to support comes from Colin Moriarty—a figure in the gaming space I’ve respected for many years. Colin, formerly at IGN and one of the original founders of Kinda Funny, recently left the company to pursue other interests aside from gaming.
With the departure of Kinda Funny, Colin launched a Patreon for his project called Colin’s Last Stand—a video series focusing on History and Politics. Whilst Colin has not begun filling his YouTube channel with content, as of March 2017 contributions for Colin’s Last Stand, sit at $39,354 a month before taxes, Patreon’s cut, and other fees.
Now, without knowing how much production costs for the video series and everyday life expenses are, it’s fair to say that anything north of $30,000 a month should conceivably suffice. However, the main reason I cannot see myself supporting Colin’s Last Stand is merely due to the fact that I know of Kinda Funny’s monetary success, and I simply cannot imagine that Colin did not make smart business moves in order to position himself comfortably moving forward.
Again, there is nothing fraudulent with Kinda Funny, Colin’s Last Stand, or any other successful Patreon beneficiary, but from a content creation and artistic sense, it is fair to question the honesty of the messaging of these creators. Not being able to pay the bills with revenue earned from the created content seems unlikely as there are many content creators who have done so before Patreon launched in 2013.
Lastly, Patreon in essence is a crowdfunding platform, it’s beneficiaries are not disguising what they’re trying to do, however how they do it is in an area which I believe can be fairly criticized. There are many examples such as content creators akin to The Nerdwriter who are using the platform in a genuine way of wanting to put forth content, but with the need of some help for their fans.
As a patron, I enjoy helping those who I personally believe would help others in the same situation. It’s a case by case basis and there is no right or wrong answer. It’s never bad to give, however if I am a contributor, I would hope the cause, person or project I’m contributing to is as genuine about receiving as I am about giving.